The news media have focused on a variety of things that are causing civilian casualties, from drone strikes to bombings to misplaced targeted attacks. However, not so much has been said about the health effects of the War on Terror on the civilians.
On September 20th, 2001, the United States’ first foray into Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks occurred. Since then, the cost of war, both in terms of money and lives lost, has been very high—not only for American citizens but for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as well.
Remembering the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers I have been thinking not just about the domestic victims of this war, but the foreign victims as well. Namely, I have been thinking about the Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have been killed or wounded in the conflicts of the last 13 years.
At various points throughout this conflict, the news media, both American and foreign, have focused on a variety of things that are causing civilian casualties, from drone strikes to bombings to misplaced targeted attacks. However, I have not seen too many people talking about what is being done or not being done to deal with the health effects of the war on the civilians in these three countries.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that I only started thinking about this topic after seeing a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) documentary that featured some of the work they are doing with the civilian casualties of the War on Terror.
I decided to do a literature search on the civilian casualties of the War on Terror and to see if anyone was looking at the effect of health outcomes in these populations. Sadly, I did not find too many articles or projects that were addressing this issue. However, a project from the Watson Institute at Brown University speaks to the core issues here.
This project aims to address not just the economic and sociopolitical costs of the War on Terror, but the human costs, in terms of military and civilian casualties, as well. The numbers they report, at least 26,000 Afghani civilians, 165,000 Iraqi civilians, and 21,500 Pakistani civilians killed since 2001, are significant because they represent only a fraction of the estimated injured in those three countries.
What is the United States’ responsibility in regard to civilian casualties?
The Watson Institute makes a number of suggestions from publicly acknowledging the number and frequency of civilian deaths and injuries to commissioning the Congressional Research Service to publish annual reports on the effects of war on health of the civilians of the regions where the US is at war. But, is knowledge enough? What will be done with this knowledge?
The War on Terror has often been described as a war for the hearts and minds of the civilians of Afghanistan, Iraq, and, to a smaller extent, Pakistan. 13 years later, with numerous civilian deaths, including nearly 4,000 due to drone strikes in Pakistan, have the hearts and minds of the general populace in these countries been won? I do not know, but I think a greater focus needs to be placed on treating the native causalities of war in order to fulfill that mission.
What will these regions look like 13 years from today? Will they still be dealing with the costs of the War on Terror on already fragile health care systems or will the health assistance they have received encourage them to have a more positive view of the West?